The first time I interviewed Ed Schrader was in 2007 for a college radio show. During our hour-long chat he spoke in a fake British accent, spent most of the interview talking effusively about David Bowie and brought a girl who he claimed was his manager, but turned out to be a fellow student of mine.
Interviewing him this week at a café in San Francisco a couple of blocks from The Chapel, where he was set to open for Future Islands that evening, was an entirely different affair. In lieu of a fake manager he was accompanied by bassist Devlin Rice, the other half of his musical project Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. He spoke slower and quieter than he has in the past; the manic edge to his voice was gone. But his face beamed whenever he talked about the music he and Rice have created together. While Schrader holds on to much of the tongue-in-cheek humor that made him such a wonderful character, his music can now speak on its own.
In the seven intervening years since our first interview, I’ve seen Schrader perform in countless roles in Baltimore; he hosted a fake Letterman-style variety show, he played John Hammond in a theatrical rendition of Jurassic Park, he did stand-up comedy. At that time he performed music solo as Ed Schrader, his veins bulging in his neck as he walloped on a floor tom and sang peculiar ditties about beautiful transvestites in the rain and being unsure of whether he was a ghost. Separating the comedy from the music was no easy task, likely a pointless one.
But now, joined by Rice, Schrader has allowed his musical interest to take center stage. On May 20th, the duo will release their second LP, Party Jail, via Infinity Cat Records. The two started playing together around four years ago after Schrader was invited to play what turned out to be a Baltimore LARP-themed rave (lots of blue face paint). He was impressed that Rice had figured out bass parts for all of the songs, which at that point were arranged solely for voice and floor tom. “You could hear the songs behind what he was doing,” Rice says.
The duo hasn’t abandoned Schrader’s peculiar antics–or the spastic performances. During their performance at the Chapel, the veins still stuck out of his neck like pipelines and he still stared straight ahead with his face lit from below in a demonic snarl. Schrader and Rice hollered at the crowd like a two-headed Beavis and Butthead monster, finishing each other’s banter. Rice occasionally spread his arms wide, shook his shoulder-length hair and yelped for no clear reason. In the red light of the Chapel, with their shadows occasionally cast, in enlarged form,. onto the side walls, the effect was somewhere between occult and theatrical punk rock.
The most remarkable thing about the music that Schrader and Rice play together is that the songs sound fully formed, even when armed with just a gnarled, sludgy bass, a single floor tom and their overlapping shrieks. New songs like “Pantomime Jack,” and “Televan” are short, staccato punk numbers that would be likely to get more people pogo-ing and moshing if the crowd wasn’t so dense.
Whether people felt like they were at a rock show or more of a weirdo art installation is unclear: their cheers mixed with their laughter as they eagerly took videos on their phones of whatever the hell was going on. But the applause was consistent; like the songs themselves, it was raucous but brief. You may never see Ed Schrader’s Music Beat turn into a full-fledged rock band, but with the imminent release of Party Jail, they will be sure to turn some heads.